The Australian government pledged on Friday to spend a further A$1 billion ($704 million) over nine years to improve the health of the Great Barrier Reef, after stalling a UNESCO decision to downgrade the World Heritage status of the reef. this natural wonder.
Critics contend the investment is an attempt to improve the green credentials of the ruling conservative coalition ahead of the impending election, while doing nothing to change the biggest threat to the coral: rising ocean temperatures.
Of the funds, A$580 million ($407 million) will go to work with land managers along Australia’s northeast coast to remediate erosion, improve land conditions and reduce nutrient runoff. and pesticides.
A further A$253 million ($178 million) will support the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, which manages the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem, in its efforts to reduce threats to the starfish. crown of thorns and prevent illegal fishing.
In addition, A$93 million ($65 million) is earmarked for research to make the reef more resilient and to drive adaptation strategies.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said “taking care of this reef, whether it’s through science, continuing our fight against starfish, improving water quality, and what this plan is about and this package, is to work together”.
In July last year, Australia garnered enough international support to defer an attempt by UNESCO, the United Nations cultural organization, to downgrade the reef to “endangered” from World Heritage status due to damage from climate change. .
The reef has suffered significantly from coral bleaching caused by unusually warm ocean temperatures in 2016, 2017 and 2020. The bleaching damaged two-thirds of the coral.
But the issue will be back on the World Heritage Committee’s agenda at its next annual meeting in June.
UNESCO had asked Australia to provide more information by next Tuesday on what is being done to protect the coral.
The government said Friday that it will meet that deadline.
Morrison was heavily criticized at the UN climate summit in Scotland in November for his government’s goal of cutting Australia’s emissions only 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2030.